They’re older and more settled in their lives off-stage, maybe wiser and better musicians, but the members of Chosen Enemies haven’t lost their enthusiasm for creating music.
Music based on punk rock’s ideals of originality, passion and a disdain for trends and those who create them. Music played with high energy — you will sweat at a Chosen Enemies show — by old friends who fit together as a band and love what they’re doing.
“In any kind of music there are people playing just to play, and people playing with a passion and a purpose,” said Brent Anderson, lead singer and lyricist. “People who want to see change come from their music; like inspiring someone with a song about free speech.”
In unison with drummer Ben Souther, Anderson sits back in his chair to await the next question. They’re here to discuss Chosen Enemies and the three-song EP Sin and the Curse the band is creating, but first the two try to explain the long history they, and brothers Will Davis on bass and Ryan Davis on guitar, have together.
The four have been making music together, punk music mostly, for more than ten years. First as Repose, and now as Chosen Enemies, they’ve used music as a means to address problems they see with society as well as comment on their personal lives.
“When you’re younger,” said Souther, “punk helps you deal with normal teenage angst and anti-establishment feelings …”
“Alienation,” added Anderson, nodding in agreement with what Souther was saying.
“… and then as you get older, you start to learn more about how the world works, and I think punk has a good underlying message,” Souther continued. “It is the everyman’s music, and although punk music may not change the world itself, it can raise awareness, especially in younger people.”
Anderson and Souther spend the next hour laughing, finishing each other’s sentence, and sitting back to reflect after moving forward to the edge of their seats while making a point. Articulate and never raising their voices, it seems hard to imagine these two began playing music “just to piss people off,” as Anderson joked.
“Punk isn’t a label — punk is an idea. It’s not walking through the mall with a Mohawk or a leather coat,” said Anderson. “Punk is a way of life, a way of not identifying with or sitting down to authority. Johnny Cash was punk: he did what the hell he wanted to do, when he wanted to do it.”
Doing what they wanted — playing music — while younger is what brought them together. The Davis brothers and Souther began jamming together in middle school while living in Marysville, Wash., a working-class town of 40,000 or so less than an hour north of Seattle. Anderson began to hang around their jam sessions, eventually adding lyrics — “Brent and his poetry,” laughed Souther — to the songs.
Within a few years Repose had a growing following and reputation: with fans for putting on great, energetic and often chaotic shows, and with the local police for being suspicious characters.
When not in zip-cuffs or the back of a police cruiser, they booked and played local halls — in later years employing a variety of scams and false names to get past club managers leery of police attention — and donated thousands of dollars from show proceeds to help build a skate park in Marysville.
“We were skateboarders, too, and so we got a little more attention than normal from the fine Marysville PD when we were hanging out in the Safeway parking lot,” laughed Souther. “With building the skate park we were very involved, going to city council meetings; that’s an example of what we want to do with Chosen Enemies and punk music — to take political action locally.”
Although at one point they cut a demo tape in California, eventually Repose broke up when the members drifted off to pursue other things.
Flash forward some years, and the Davis brothers were still playing music, once again finding themselves in a band breaking apart. Anderson, who had followed them as a fan, still had the desire to sing and be on stage. They reconnected and ended up jamming for a year and a half — “Trying to figure out what kind of music we wanted to play, who we wanted to be,” said Anderson — along the way gaining and then losing a few musicians, including a drummer.
“The night we lost our drummer, I called Ben,” said Anderson, “and I said ‘Hey we just fired our drummer …’ and I didn’t get to finish before he said ‘Yeah, I’m there.’”
Chosen Enemies was born and their long history together as friends and bandmates made it seem like they were once again kids playing in someone’s garage. A website, www.chosenenemies.com and “Chosen Enemies” Facebook fan page followed, with the name and Tommy Gun logo coming from Anderson’s interest in organized crime in The Roaring 20s.
The idea of reforming as Repose was only briefly considered.
“It’s a new chapter. It’s obvious we’re the same members, but that’s not how we looked at it,” said Anderson. “We’re the same people, but now we have very different lives: some are married, some have kids. We’re older, wiser and maybe better players, so we don’t want to be limited in what we play or to be seen as a novelty act, Repose 2.0 or something.”
One thing that hasn’t changed is how Chosen Enemies creates its music, according to Souther: “When we were kids we would spend all day in a room and songs would materialize, and that’s still happening. Ryan’s got a riff, Will has a bass line, Brent has tons of lyrics — enough for years, probably — and it just happens.”
“The maturity of the band has developed the angst and passion we have,” Souther continued. “When we were younger there was no direction where it was pointed — it could’ve been a cop or the manager at the McDonalds. Now that we’re older and understand things a little better, we can use that same emotion about what’s really wrong and what’s going on. We have a better sense of where to point some light.”
Something else that hasn’t changed is the band’s live show, a high energy, visceral performance that channels the crowded, sweaty vibe from their earliest days playing small rented halls and clubs around Marysville. At a recent show where the Enemies were one of several bands, the club manager asked if they had a preference for when they went on stage.
“We told them we’d go first, which surprised them a bit, but we don’t care: we’ll play first, last or in the middle,” said Souther with a laugh. “But when we go up on stage, we play like we’re the headliners, like we’re the reason people are there — every time.”
In late 2010, Chosen Enemies began work on a three-song EP titled Sin and the Curse to give their fans a chance to hear their songs anytime and to reach a larger audience. Lacking money for studio time, the EP was recorded in the hall where the band practices, each song in about three takes, and then mixed by sound engineer Eric Wick, a longtime friend of the band, as repayment for some graphic arts work done by Anderson.
Although less polished than a big studio production, Anderson and Souther feel Sin and the Curse has a live-performance sound that is a truer reflection of who and what Chosen Enemies is.
“At the end of the day Chosen Enemies is a live act, and I would rather tour the country and play dive bar after dive bar than worry about how many iTunes downloads we get,” said Souther. “The main pressing of our EP will be on vinyl; we know most people don’t have turntables, but the punk-rock community has an appreciation for it. Vinyl is a better, warmer medium for fans to experience punk and our music.”
With that, the hour is up. Anderson and Souther have jobs — the Davis brothers are either already at work or will be soon — to get back to. But make no mistake: Jobs, families and a being a few years older may make them look settled and comfortable, but the Enemies haven’t lost any of their passion or desire to make a difference — and to make you sweat.